By Stewart Doan

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, March 29 - A federal appeals court on Monday gave federal and state water regulators more time to comply with a 2009 mandate requiring Clean Water Act (CWA)permits for pesticide discharges into U.S. waters.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati granted theEnvironmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) request that the deadline for implementing the court’s ruling in National Cotton Council v. EPA be extended from April 9, 2011 to Oct. 31, 2011.

The extension was announced two days before the House of Representatives debates bipartisan legislation that would prohibit additional regulation of federally-approved pesticides.

EPA is developing a pesticide general permit in response to the 6th Circuit’s January 2009 ruling that discharges from pesticides into federal waters were pollutants, and, therefore, will require a permit under the CWA.

The agency estimates the decision will affect approximately 35,000 pesticide applicators that perform about 500,000 pesticide applications annually.

Farm groups and their allies on Capitol Hill decried the legal mandate, arguing that CWA regulation was unnecessary since pesticides already are regulated under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).

The House on Wednesday will consider a bill approved unanimously by the Agriculture Committee and endorsed by the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on a 46-8 count that would block CWA regulation of FIFRA-registered pesticides.

H.R. 872, the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2011, will be debated under a rule requiring a two-thirds majority for passage. A vote is scheduled for Thursday. Ag interests tell Agri-Pulse they’re close to rounding up the necessary 290 votes. But Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., is not taking anything for granted. He circulated a “Dear Colleague” letter Monday asking for support in passing the legislation and “ensuring pesticide applicators including farmers, ranchers, forest managers, state agencies, city and county municipalities, mosquito control districts, and water districts, among others will not be burdened with duplicative, burdensome and costly obligations that provide no quantifiable benefits to human health or the environment.”

Environmental groups including the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council and Earthjustice strongly oppose the bill and urged House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in a letter to “allow EPA to stop toxic pesticides from entering our waterways.”

FIFRA regulates the distribution, sale and use of pesticides but does not provide any protections tailored to the conditions in specific bodies of water, the organizations wrote. “This has caused a dangerous blind spot in protecting human health and ecosystems.”

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